By Jamie Rieger
After the past few springs that brought plenty of precipitation, at times too much precipitation, Spring 2015 is proving to be one with much drier conditions. Farmers were able to get their crops in the ground earlier than in recent years and sun bathers have been enjoying the warm sunny days.
While many, particularly dryland farmers, are hoping the rain comes soon to get those crops growing, it is still too early to tell whether or not the lack of rain is going to be problematic.
Alberta Environment’s water supply outlook for May indicated below average mountain runoff for Milk River/Eastern Crossing for March through September.
For the Oldman River basin, the report showed below average for Belly River, Waterton River, and Oldman River at Lethbridge for the same period.
As well, the mountain snowpack as of May 1 was recorded as being much below average for the Oldman River basin and below average for the Bow River basin.
The report also stated that the early melt is indicative of conditions similar to 2005 in southern Alberta.
John Pomeroy, who studies snowpack has said that “the one implication for the (early melt continuing) is that we don’t have a lot of water storage across Alberta. It could create some water storage problems.”
Water allocations for St. Mary’s River irrigators has been set at 16 inches for the 2015 season, just slightly below the average yearly allocation of 18 inches.
Terrence Lazarus, SMRID general manager said it is too early yet to use the ‘D-word’, as there may be a lot of precipitation on the way in the coming weeks.
“Yes, we are under weak El Nino conditions right now, but a lot could still happen and I wouldn’t use the drought word until the second week of June,” said Lazarus.
Some forecasts expect El Nino to strengthen this fall and persist through next winter and spring.
Senior climatologist for Environment Canada, David Phillips said while there are no guarantees with their forecasts, he is confident that Alberta will experience a hot prairie summer.
What comes weather-wise from now until mid-June will be determining factors on whether or not to drop the D-word. No producer wants to see a drought, but most if not all prepare for it with their drought risk management plans; which include strategies that reduce the effects of drought.
One dry season is usually fairly easily managed, but should the drought last over two or more seasons, the low water supply not only includes those in the agriculture business, but also municipalities, recreational facilities, fisheries, and transportation; not to mention the individuals who would likely be placed on water restrictions.
It may be too early to know for certain what will transpire over the next few weeks and months, but many folks out there are already looking at water levels in local rivers and keeping an eye on the sky hoping the clouds will drop some moisture on their fields.